Farmer Focus: Is it time to cut yet?

It’s that time of the year again where a few hours are spent every day staring at a computer screen checking the latest weather forecasts.

Then there is a lot of head scratching, a phone call to our neighbour and contractor to see what they think the weather is going to do, and then the cycle repeats.

Hopefully, by the time you read this the first cut should be ensiled.

Getting this cut made is very important for our winter months of milk production. We aim to have enough first-cut silage to feed the higher-yielding cows all year round.

So if we time it right and the quality is good, concentrate usage can be reduced. However, if we get it wrong it could be a costly winter feeding cows.

Read more from our other livestock farmer focus writers 

With the late spring, the crop is only just ready, so we’re hoping for some favourable weather to start cutting. Over the Easter holidays we managed to get 35ha of forage maize drilled in very good conditions.

Although the soil temperature is still quite low, the seed-bed was excellent. So rather than delay drilling until warmer weather, the decision was made to plant the maize. Time will tell if the right choice was made.

This year rather than doing our normal system of housing high-yielding cows 24/7 and grazing the lower-yielders as much as possible, we have kept the whole herd indoors.

Grazing works well in favourable conditions, but we felt the past few years we have been wasting grass and losing litres within this batch of cows. By housing them and making more silage we will have a more consistent diet and can fully use the grass that would normally be grazed.

A few weeks ago I really enjoyed attending an Agricultural Symposium organised by final-year agricultural students at Queens University, Belfast. The theme was based on the Northern Ireland agri-food strategy and the question was: “Are we still going for growth?”

The short answer to this is yes, but unfortunately there are a lot of hurdles to overcome along the way. By reducing red tape and having a level playing field, the Northern Ireland agri-food sector will, hopefully, continue to grow and excel.

Thomas Steele milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year in 2012.